Peer Review

EPA's Implementation Remains Uneven Gao ID: RCED-96-236 September 24, 1996

Peer review is the critical evaluation of scientific and technical work products by independent experts. Senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have said that peer review is an important mechanism for enhancing the quality, credibility, and acceptability of products that may ultimately form the basis of regulations and other key agency decisions. Properly implemented, peer review can also save money by steering product development along the most efficient, effective course, thereby avoiding costly and time-consuming delays. EPA's current policy, issued in June 1995, expands the agency's prior policies and practices and continues to stress that major scientific and technical work products should be peer reviewed. This report assesses EPA's (1) progress in implementing its peer review policy and (2) efforts to improve the peer review process.

GAO found that: (1) although EPA has made progress in implementing its peer review policy, after nearly 2 years, implementation remains uneven; (2) while GAO found cases in which the peer review policy was followed, GAO also found cases in which important aspects of the policy were not followed or peer review was not conducted at all; (3) two primary reasons for this unevenness are: (a) confusion among agency staff and management about what peer review is, what its significance and benefits are, and how and when it should be conducted; and (b) inadequate accountability and oversight mechanisms to ensure that all relevant products are properly peer reviewed; (4) EPA officials readily acknowledged this uneven implementation and identified several of the agency's efforts to improve the peer review process; (5) because of concern about the effectiveness of the existing accountability and oversight mechanisms for ensuring proper peer review, EPA's Deputy Administrator recently established procedures to help build accountability and demonstrate EPA's commitment to the independent review of the scientific analyses underlying the agency's decisions; (6) these efforts are steps in the right direction; however, educating all staff about the merits of and procedures for conducting peer review would increase the likelihood that peer review is properly implemented agencywide; and (7) furthermore, by ensuring that all relevant products have been considered for peer review and that the reasons for those not selected have been documented, EPA's upper-level managers will have the necessary information to ensure that the policy is properly implemented.


Our recommendations from this work are listed below with a Contact for more information. Status will change from "In process" to "Open," "Closed - implemented," or "Closed - not implemented" based on our follow up work.

Director: Team: Phone:

The Justia Government Accountability Office site republishes public reports retrieved from the U.S. GAO These reports should not be considered official, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Justia.